Doing Business with the Nordics - Sharing Our Real Experiences

Embarking on a business expansion into Sweden opens doors to exciting opportunities and unique challenges for Dutch companies. In collaboration with Beyondo (formely operating under the name of Undutchables), we would like to share insights derived from real experiences, offering a comprehensive guide for businesses eyeing strategic growth in the Nordic region.

It's essential to be aware that the Nordic region consists of various countries, and while they may share values, recognizing the differences is vital as they represent diverse markets.

Gaining an understanding of the Nordic region as distinct markets is crucial; in this blog, our focus is specifically on zooming in on Sweden. Undutchables made the journey to the Swedish market a few years ago with Karin Björkman – now of Beyondo – and you can read about her experience here.

Understanding Swedish business culture: Keys to success

Adapting to cultural nuances is essential for success in the Swedish business landscape. It is vital to discover the importance of understanding communication styles and contractual expectations, providing a foundation for seamless integration into the local market.

Let’s zoom in on the differences between the communication styles in Sweden and the Netherlands, to be prepared for what approach to take in Sweden:

Directness vs. Tactful Directness:

Sweden: Swedes are known for their direct communication style, but it often comes with a degree of tact. They value honesty but try to express themselves in a way that minimizes confrontation or discomfort.

The Netherlands: Dutch communication is characterized by a straightforward and explicit style. The Dutch tend to be direct, open, and clear in their communication, valuing clarity and efficiency.

"Softening the direct Dutch approach for effective communication in Sweden, coupled with the power of personal connections, has been my key to unlocking opportunities in the Nordic business landscape."

~Karin Björkman

Another key element for handling business in Sweden is learning the language. While English proficiency is high in Sweden, making an effort to learn some Swedish is appreciated, especially for those planning to stay long-term.

Typical characteristics of the Swedish business culture would be equality (i.e. gender equality), their social security system (free childcare and schooling, etc.) and a flat hierarchical structure. Decision making processes are typically collaborative, with an emphasis on team input (consensus decision making). Familiarizing yourself with the concept of ‘Jantelagen’, is advisable for a better preparation.

Our advice for Dutch professionals engaging in business with Sweden is to blend their naturally direct communication style with a touch of tactful diplomacy, recognizing the Swedish preference for honest yet considerate interactions. Accept the collaborative decision-making, respecting the flat hierarchy, and acknowledge Sweden's commitment to gender equality and 'Jantelagen' for a successful and culturally aligned partnership.

In Sweden, there is also a large focus on sustainability, with a strong emphasis on environmental sustainability, eco-friendly practices, and corporate social responsibility often integrated into company values.

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is also a very important focus in Sweden. Swedes love nature! They value their free time and prioritize personal life alongside professional commitments. The business attire in Sweden is generally conservative and formal, however, depending on the industry.

Swedes also value competence and expertise, demonstrating proficiency in your field is important for gaining respect and trust.

If you participate in informal settings, such as fika (coffee breaks), you'll start to grasp the informal yet integral nature of Swedish business culture. These casual interactions offer insights into communication styles and play a key role in relationship-building. It's worth noting that many business deals are often facilitated around the coffee machine in Sweden!

In the Netherlands, business discussions often occur in formal meeting rooms. In contrast, Sweden places importance on casual settings for business conversations, allowing for a more relaxed and collaborative atmosphere. Understanding and adapting to this informal approach can enhance your integration into Swedish business culture.

Photo Beyondo

Navigating the Governmental landscape

When you are looking to establish your company in Sweden, make sure you gain insights into navigating Swedish regulations, legal frameworks, labor dynamics, and employment contracts, to ensure a smooth transition for your business.

Our suggestion is to establish contact with someone who has a local network and consult with Swedish business associations or legal experts to gain practical insights into the regulatory landscape. This firsthand guidance can be invaluable in navigating Sweden's regulatory terrain. Here Beyondo can provide you with contacts to valuable partners, experts within this field.

When entering the Swedish market, crucial interactions include registration with the Swedish Companies Registration Office (Bolagsverket) for company establishment, and compliance with the Swedish Tax Agency (Skatteverket) for taxation matters. Additionally, businesses should engage with sector-specific authorities, such as the Swedish Patent and Registration Office for intellectual property protection, ensuring a smooth and legally compliant market entry.

Doing business in Sweden

Aligning with Nordic Values

To understand the Nordic business landscape, we've learned that aligning with values like equality, transparency, and sustainability is crucial. While the focus on collaborative decision-making and flat hierarchies is clear, our experience highlights a continued emphasis on job titles. It is valuable, and crucial, to clearly define the titles for the positions you aim to fill. For example, while the role may be termed as a 'Sales Representative' in your company, you may want to adjust the name of the position for the Swedish market. In Sweden, job titles carry significant weight. The chosen title not only influences the type of candidates you can attract but also plays a central role in opening doors. When contemplating titles, options like Sales Manager or Country Manager may be good options to consider, as each clearly outlines responsibilities linked to market entry.

Recruiting Talent: Strategies for the Swedish Labor Market

Collaborate with local recruitment partners like Beyondo to tap into their expertise, gaining access to a pool of qualified (local) candidates and insights into the nuances of Swedish hiring practices. You can also consider using online platforms and participating in industry-specific events as effective strategies to establish a presence in the Swedish job market or to identify suitable staff.

In Sweden, the preference for CVs over cover letters is common. We would recommend a thorough application review with an emphasis on a structured two-page CV rather than a personal letter.

Shortlisted candidates undergo multiple interview rounds, and while some employers may request a personal letter, our approach prioritizes efficiency and clarity in presenting key qualifications. The process often concludes with reference checks, and it is common to commence a trial period of 6 months to assess the candidate's fit within the organization.

In Sweden considering not only qualifications but also placing significant importance on personality fit and soft skills is a standard part of the hiring process. Embracing and adjusting to this Swedish approach can elevate and strengthen your recruitment strategy in the Swedish market. Also, when you are first breaking into the market it is important that you find a candidate that can guide you and represent you in the local market, but at the same time is able to adjust to working for an international organization.

Sharing our real experiences

Drawing from our own experience, we've found that adopting a diplomatic communication style, as opposed to being overly direct, has been essential. To expedite success, connecting with Dutch companies that have effectively expanded into Sweden has proved invaluable. Learning firsthand from their experiences and gaining practical insights aided us in navigating challenges during our expansion.

Collaborating with Beyondo: Your strategic expansion partner

We welcome you to initiate a dialogue with Beyondo and their partners to discuss your specific expansion goals and challenges. Engage in a collaborative planning process to leverage their expertise in recruitment, legislation, and local market nuances. It is wise to establish a strategic partnership to navigate the complexities of Swedish expansion.

While Dutch recruitment agencies can provide support when recruiting in Sweden, the Swedish market's unique characteristics demand a specialized approach. Beyondo's tailored assistance, involving recruitment and regulatory guidance, aligns with the distinct requirements of the Swedish business landscape.

To summarize: Tips for a successful journey into the Swedish Market

Whether you are seeking to hire a native Swedish speaker (or someone from a Nordic country) in the Netherlands or are looking to recruit locally in Sweden, conducting thorough due diligence on the local way of doing business is essential. Understanding the cultural nuances and business practices specific to Sweden ensures a smoother and more successful recruitment process, fostering positive relationships with candidates and facilitating effective integration into the Swedish work environment.

In my experience, the Dutch approach, characterized by directness, often needs a more nuanced tone when interacting in the Swedish business culture. Softening communication has been essential. Additionally, establishing a network and leveraging connections and acquaintances significantly facilitated entry into the Swedish job market, emphasizing the importance of personal connections in opening doors for opportunities. See you in the North!

This article was written in collaboration with Karin Björkman Tendijck, the proud owner of Beyondo. Special thanks to Karin and her team for the photos and valuable insights into the Swedish market. Feel free to reach out to the Undutchables or Beyondo team members with any questions about expanding your business into Sweden and the rest of the Nordic market.

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